Kalpana Chawla

Born in Karnal, India, on July 1, 1961, Kalpana Chawla obtained a degree in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College before immigrating to the United States and becoming a naturalized citizen in the 1980s. She earned a doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado in 1988, having previously obtained her Master’s degree from the University of Texas. In 1994, Chawla was selected as an astronaut candidate. Over the course of her two missions, Chawla logged 30 days, 14 hours, and 54 minutes in space. 

She was a member of the ill-fated Columbia Space Shuttle mission that exploded on reentry in 2003, killing all aboard.  

After her first launch, Chawla said, “When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel that you are not just from any particular piece of land, but from the solar system.“

She was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, posthumously, among many other honors.  

Watch this video about Kalpana Chawla.

Submitted by Maggie Neale; Illustration partially based on a photo from NASA